Mitt Romney’s address to the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference on Saturday provided a preview of how Romney plans to deal with gay issues during the upcoming presidential campaign. The presumptive GOP presidential nominee was addressing (via satellite–always the safest bet) a group of red-meat religious right followers sailing under the banner of a group formed by Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson’s erstwhile butt boy.
Given the fact that true believers aren’t convinced that Romney is really one of them–not a crazy concept given Romney’s own track record, which he now vigorously denies–Romney needs to keep the base satisfied while appealing to the independent voters (estimated at 10-15 percent of electorate) who will determine the outcome of the election.
So Romney employed a modified Etch-A-Sketch strategy to address the right wing jamboree. He didn’t reverse himself (having already completely reversed himself multiple times), but he was careful not to employ the type of inflammatory rhetoric he employed during the primaries. In fact, he didn’t hammer away at gay issues at all, despite having the perfect venue. Instead, he relied on two techniques that we will probably begin to see a lot more of: code and surrogates.
The code was language that serves as a dog whistle to the religious right but that might escape the notice of most other folks. Romney spoke in favor of “religious freedom,” which, of course, is under attack by the godless Obama administration. He spoke about the need for young people to “get married before they have children, because the opportunity for a mom and a dad to help guide the life of a child gives them such an enormous advantage” (over the children of same-sex couples or single people of course). In response to a question about U.S. policy towards Israel but that could apply to any question, Romney said “I think, by and large, you can just look at the things the president has done and do the opposite.” Ah, yes, the opposite world strategy! That’s been the GOP anti-Obama campaign slogan from day one, whether the president happened to be right or wrong. And Romney, with few deeply held convictions of his own, is the perfect spokesman for such a course.
Now all of these comments have a gay subtext to them, but Romney made sure it stayed as subtext. Still, there’s no doubt his audience picked up on the implications of his remarks. But to underscore Romney’s conservative bona fides, Rick Santorum told the same Faith and Freedom crowd that Romney isn’t as squishy as he thought he would be. Instead of displaying his moderate true self, Romney has remained a knuckle-dragging, card-carrying member of the lunatic fringe, Santorum swore. “I’m seeing him stand by the convictions he had during the primaries,” Santorum said. Given Santorum’s own credentials as the beloved of the religious right, his blessing on Romney was as good as Mitt delivering an ad hominem attack of the type that Santorum perfected during the primaries.
Will voters remember the hard-core Mitt of the primaries? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s pretty clear that if Mitt has his way, that version of himself will join the long line of other Mitts that have suddenly been replaced by more expedient versions. The Faith and Freedom Conference was just a preview of the latest Mitt to roll off the Romney assembly line.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore